Friday, June 02, 2006

Updike Terrorist, McMurtry's West, Ali's Portugal: June Fiction

Updike Terrorist, McMurtry's West, Ali's Portugal: June Fiction

(The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Bloomberg.)

By Edward Nawotka

June 2 (Bloomberg) -- John Updike's New Jersey terrorist, Larry McMurtry's latest jaunt in the Old West, Monica Ali in Portugal and a comic look at the future from a Young & Rubicam veteran -- these are some of the fiction highlights this month.

``Terrorist'' by John Updike (Knopf). New Jersey high- school student Ahmad Mulloy Ashmawy -- the son of an Irish- American mother and an Egyptian father who abandoned him -- finds the fiery rhetoric of militant Islam soothes his angst- ridden teenage soul and leads him down a nefarious path. While Updike's mostly sympathetic portrayal of the young terrorist isn't wholly convincing, the book's ambitious attempt to embody the past five years of homeland insecurity is gripping nonetheless.

``Lost and Found'' by Carolyn Parkhurst (Little, Brown). Parkhurst's follow-up to her bestselling debut, ``The Dogs of Babel,'' portrays the behind-the-scenes antics at a fictional reality show featuring a coterie of emotionally befuddled contestants in a global scavenger hunt.

``There Will Never Be Another You'' by Carolyn See (Random House). In the near future, the U.S. wages war with an unseen enemy and UCLA dermatologist Phil Fuchs joins a top-secret biological-emergency-response team. His marriage is breaking up while other couples fall in love in this poignant portrait of people who continue to seek happiness despite deep anxiety about the future.

``Telegraph Days'' by Larry McMurtry (Simon & Schuster). The Texan's latest novel depicts the rise and fall of the Old West through the eyes of Marie Antoinette Courtright, an orphan who becomes Buffalo Bill's lover, witnesses the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and, eventually, writes screenplays about it all for MGM.

``Alentejo Blue'' by Monica Ali (Scribner). The Booker Prize-nominated author of ``Brick Lane'' leaves behind London's East End and heads to Portugal for this series of vignettes about the residents of a rural village in decline. They struggle with falling demand for cork, unwelcome tourists and their own apathy.

``Blow the House Down'' by Robert Baer (Crown). Baer, a former CIA agent (the film ``Syriana'' was based on his life), delivers this thriller in which a CIA operative discovers evidence that Iran is cooperating with al-Qaeda to plan a massive terrorist attack against the U.S. -- namely, 9/11.

``Cellophane'' by Marie Arana (Dial). Fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Latin American fiction will enjoy this vivid, bawdy first novel from the editor of the Washington Post Book World, in which Don Victor Sobrevilla starts a paper factory in the Peruvian rain forest and later discovers the formula for cellophane, setting off a series of magical events.

``Londonstani'' by Gautam Malkani (Penguin). This first novel from a Financial Times editor is a raw, foul-mouthed group portrait of four ambitious South Asian ``rudeboys,'' petty criminals who banter in a hip, urban shorthand (``Dey shud save up their aggro 4 Paki bashers, u get me?'') and cruise the streets of London looking for action.

``The Futurist'' by James Othmer (Doubleday). A very funny business satire from a former Young & Rubicam creative director, in which a famous prognosticator founds ``The Coalition of the Clueless'' after he mistakes a deadly riot at a Johannesburg soccer match for a celebration. When a shady organization sends him on a round-the-world trip to find out why much of the world hates America, his eyes open even wider.

``Water for Elephants'' by Sara Gruen (Algonquin). In what may be the sleeper hit of the summer, a young man joins a ragtag traveling circus -- the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth -- during the Great Depression and falls prey to a maniacal ringmaster, a horse-riding ingenue and the charms of a hapless pachyderm.

``A Disorder Peculiar to the Country'' by Ken Kalfus (Ecco). Kalfus, best known for penetrating fiction mostly set in Russia, has written a domestic drama about divorcing Brooklynites who go to war with each other just as the Twin Towers fall. Each thinks the other died in the attack and rejoices -- then the escalation begins.

``The Abortionist's Daughter'' by Elisabeth Hyde (Knopf). A polemical whodunit about the murder of a vocal Colorado abortion doctor. Suspects include the doctor's husband (who is a district attorney), her teenage daughter and a local pro-life minister. Meanwhile, few of the town's residents want to help with the investigation, which is attracting unwelcome national publicity.

``Academy X'' by Andrew Trees (Bloomsbury). In this novel about academic and class one-upmanship in New York City, an English teacher at an elite Manhattan prep school is caught up in a plot to get a rich donor's daughter admitted into Princeton (she's only wait-listed), while at the same time trying to romance the new, not-so-innocent librarian.

``Winkie'' by Clifford Chase (Grove). A quirky political black comedy about an animate teddy bear arrested by the FBI for his association -- i.e., being the much-loved possession of a mad professor with a close resemblance to the Unabomber. An overzealous government prosecutor takes the bear to trial, accusing him of terrorism and calls witnesses to testify against him from the trials of Galileo, Socrates and Oscar Wilde.

``The Whistling Season'' by Ivan Doig (Harcourt). An early- 20th-century saga about how a rural Montana farming community is changed by the presence of the new schoolteacher who blows in from the big city of Minneapolis wielding brass knuckles, and how he adapts to the rugged land he finds there.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

June Books: Berlusconi's Ego, Bronfmans' Seagram, Coulter Screed

Berlusconi Ego, Bronfmans' Seagram, Coulter Screed

June 1 (Bloomberg) -- A biography of Italy's sore-losing, forever-preening Silvio Berlusconi, a history of the Seagram liquor empire and a survey of erotica hoarders -- these are some of the highlights among new June nonfiction books.

``The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11'' by Ron Suskind (Simon & Schuster). To keep the suspense high, the publishers have not put out any advance galleys before the June 20 publication date. Suskind promises to unveil how American spies have pursued and apprehended would-be terrorists, preventing further attacks on the U.S.

``Armed Madhouse: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats, Bush Sinks, The Scheme to Steal '08, No Child's Behind Left, and Other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War'' by Greg Palast (Dutton). The muckraking BBC reporter claims that John Kerry won in 2004 and there really are secret rulers of the world. He has 50 classified documents from the Pentagon, the World Bank and elsewhere as proof.

``Uberpower: The Imperial Temptation of America'' by Josef Joffe (Norton). ``Die Zeit'' publisher-editor Joffe meditates on America's role as world leader -- one he says is more benign and comforting than aggressive -- and offers a perceptive analysis of global anti-Americanism.

``Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public'' by Helen Thomas (Scribner). Thomas, age 85 and the most recognizable face in the White House briefing room, recounts her 60-year career, during which she covered nine presidents. She argues that journalists have a responsibility to demand answers to tough questions -- something she says the current press corps is really bad at.

``Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea'' by George Lakoff (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The Berkeley linguistics professor and liberal strategist who wrote the bestseller ``Don't Think of an Elephant!'' argues that conservatives have ruined the word ``freedom'' by using it to justify their bad behavior.

``Godless: The Church of Liberalism'' by Ann Coulter (Crown). In her latest screed, Coulter proposes that liberalism isn't merely a political stance but a religion, complete with a cosmology, miracles, high priests, martyrs and more -- but apparently no deity.

``Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism'' by Michelle Goldberg (Norton). Goldberg looks into the culture war between secular America and the growing religious mainstream, where certain Christians profess it is their God-given right to govern nonbelievers and are striving mightily to elect their own priestly politicians.

``The Pursuit of Happyness'' by Chris Gardner (Amistad). Horatio Alger would admire Gardner, who recalls how he transformed himself from a homeless single parent eating in San Francisco soup kitchens into a wealthy stockbroker who founded his own firm, Chicago's Gardner Rich.

``The Bronfmans: The Rise and Fall of the House of Seagram'' by Nicholas Faith (St. Martin's). This history of the Bronfman family, whose name means ``liquor man'' in Yiddish, shows how the Bronfmans started as bootleggers during Prohibition and built a business empire that Vivendi eventually paid $34.4 billion to acquire in 2000.

``Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon's Scientific Underworld'' by Sharon Weinberger (Nation Books). This look at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency examines the government's efforts to create a weapon that would end the War on Terror, including an experimental nuclear device called a ``hafnium bomb.''

``The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina -- The Inside Story From One Louisiana Scientist'' by Ivor van Heerden (Viking). In this enlightening treatise the author calls the flooding of New Orleans ``man-made'' and outlines the chain of human failure that enabled the disaster to happen so fast.

``The Sack of Rome: How a Beautiful European Country with a Fabled History and a Storied Culture Was Taken Over by a Man Named Silvio Berlusconi'' by Alexander Stille (Penguin). Stille explains Berlusconi's trajectory from Milan real-estate developer with Machiavellian impulses to media baron and one of Europe's most resilient right-wing politicians.

``Indefensible: One Lawyer's Journey into the Inferno of American Justice'' by David Feige (Little, Brown). A former public defender, Feige documents a single day in the South Bronx criminal-justice system, where he meets a 16-year-old supermodel accused of murder, a judge obsessed with ``Soldier of Fortune'' magazine, and the motley assortment of life that gets sucked into the legal system on a daily basis.

``Seaworthy: Adrift with William Willis in the Golden Age of Rafting'' by T.R. Pearson (Crown). William Willis was 60 when he improbably piloted a homemade balsa-wood raft across the Pacific, from Peru to American Samoa, enduring shark attacks, dehydration and encroaching madness.

``Sex Collectors: The Secret World of Consumers, Connoisseurs, Curators, Creators, Dealers, Bibliographers, and Accumulators of 'Erotica''' by Geoff Nicholson (Simon & Schuster). Nicholson takes a bizarre grand tour of people who have amassed piles of sex-related artifacts, such as the woman with a plaster cast of Jimi Hendrix's penis and a rock impresario with a stash of thousands of skin mags.

``Sheetrock & Shellac: A Thinking Person's Guide to the Art and Science of Home Improvement'' by David Owen (Simon & Schuster). Owen, a staff writer at the New Yorker magazine, documents his growing confidence as he renovates his 200-year-old Connecticut farmhouse. No mere weekend warrior, he eventually tries building a home from the ground up.

``The Afterlife'' by Donald Antrim (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). This acclaimed experimental novelist's chilling meditation about his alcoholic mother's death from lung cancer is being compared to Joan Didion's ``Year of Magical Thinking.''

``The General and the Jaguar: Pershing's Hunt for Pancho Villa -- A True Story of Revolution and Revenge'' by Eileen Welsome (Little, Brown). On March 9, 1916, Pancho Villa attacked Columbus, New Mexico, killing 18 Americans. General John J. ``Black Jack'' Pershing and a young George Patton chased Villa into Mexico, where they found a country nearly as hostile and dangerous as modern-day Iraq.

``The Reach of a Chef: Beyond the Kitchen'' by Michael Ruhlman (Viking). In his third book on chefs, after ``The Making of a Chef'' and ``The Soul of a Chef,'' Ruhlman peeks into the kitchen at Manhattan's pricey Per Se restaurant, visits the food temples in Las Vegas and talks to the folks at Food Network, among other adventures in culinary America.

``Every Second Counts: The Race to Transplant the First Human Heart'' by Donald McRae (Putnam). How four surgeons --three Americans and the vainglorious South African Christiaan Barnard - - competed in 1967 to pioneer human-heart transplants.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)